New South Wales sits as perhaps the most active and vibrant construction legal market of all Australian states. The state is fortunate in that while it has seen the steady flow of contentious matters that other states have relied upon it has also managed to see a return of front end matters at most levels of the market. Certainly this front-end activity is well shy of “boom” levels but it’s more than enough for now and a strong pipeline of future projects and client optimism bodes well for the future.
Most notable though was the significant levels of personnel movement from many of the markets historically strong construction practices away to the mid-tier and market newcomers. The likes of Ashurst (Kevin Arkwright, Graham Read and Chris Mitchell), Allens (John Cooper), and King & Wood Mallesons (Julie Wright) all saw highly regarded partners depart with the full effects on the market generally and to these practices specifically not yet fully determined.
Addisons Lawyers’ entry into the NSW construction space comes on the back of the August 2013 appointment of the highly regarded Mal Fielding. Noted as perhaps the market’s best contractor-side lawyer, Fielding drew praise for his “wonderful bedside manner with clients” as well as his “practical and commercial approach.
Despite questions surrounding the firm’s commitment to acting for government in major projects work, Allens Leighton O’Brien has managed to maintain a strong front end practice post the departure of enigmatic Partner John Cooper (to Jones Day in February 2013).
While it’s too early to call the demise of Ashurst’s Sydney construction practice the sign’s do not bode well. Beyond rumours of the firm culling partners and modifying its service offering to bring it in-line with the UK arm, the departures of three construction partners in the past six months and some three partners departing the firm’s real estate practice in the past two years are of concern. Nonetheless litigator Chris Davidson continues to be “a well considered and practical operator” while front-end lawyer Gareth Sage is considered as “more than able to step into the big shoes left to fill”.
Led by veteran Partner Geoff Wood, Baker & McKenzie’s front–end offering continues to emerge as a strong alternative to many of the market’s historically strong construction practices. Partner Alex Hartmann was also seen as “really hitting his straps”.
CBP Lawyers loyal contractor client base was the envy of many peers. “Brad (Kermond), Nick (Crennan) and Geoff (Standen) are all great lawyers and their clients love them” noted one peer while another commented “they really punch above their weight.”
Clayton Utz continue to dominate both the front and back-end construction legal market on the back of the firm’s work on almost every major government infrastructure matter. Doug Jones remains “evergreen”, Frank Bannon is “a calm and strategic litigator”, transport specialist Sergio Capelli “is back in the market and everywhere” and Owen Hayford’s work on the North West Rail Link project was praised.
Somewhat strangely Sydney appears to be something of the weak link in the Corrs Chambers Westgarth construction practice. Certainly the firm’s capabilities on both front and back end matters are not to be underestimated but, with Robert Regan increasingly spending time on management and Partners Andrew Chew and Shaun Bailey noted more for their technical ability than market presence, the firm struggled to gain the recognition it possibly deserves.
Gadens Lawyers continues to build its reputation across mid-market contentious construction matters. Partner Scott Laycock was viewed as “effective and direct” while Doron Rivlin’s work for second-tier contractors was regularly noted.
It’s still too early in the day to determine the full impact of Henry Davis York’s recent hire of Ashurst duo Kevin Arkwright and Graham Read will have on the firm’s true standing in the NSW construction market but, for now at least, things look decidedly promising. Certainly the view within the market is that HDY’s commitment to eroding the Clayton Utz stronghold on government work is now beyond doubt. Personnel wise, Arkwright was noted as “the best draftsman around” and practice leader Michael Bampton was seen as “under-rated” and “very reasonable to deal with and no-nonsense”.
Herbert Smith Freehills’ David Templeman continues to be ever-present on front-end construction matters and was noted as “brilliant on PPP work” and “a great mind who knows how to get the deal done”. The firm suffers in our rankings due to a lack of a committed presence to contentious construction matters however we encountered more than trivial levels of comment pointing towards the firm potentially remedying this aspect of its practice in the near future.
Jones Day’s February 2013 hire of Allens heavyweight John Cooper turned a number of heads in the market however, beyond a significant move into the Western Australian market this year the market impact to date has not been considerable.
While the commitment of King & Wood Mallesons to the construction space continues to be questioned by peers the abilities of Peter Pether (who now heads the firm’s Global Disputes group) were not and he remains the market’s most respected contractor side litigator. Partner Julie Wright left the firm in 2013 to join the bar.
Maddocks Lawyers’ young stars Andrew Chapman and Mathew Stulic have weathered the storm of the departures of their more senior counterparts (Mal Fielding and Peter Meade) to hold solid ground on both front and back-end construction matters.
The market’s quite achiever, Minter Ellison’s five Partner construction practice is well regarded on both front and back-end matters. Senior Partner Pamela Jack continues to be “always one of the best” on contentious construction matters wile Liz McKechnie is “very user friendly and responsive” and was particularly noted for her front end work on commercial and residential development matters.